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When can authorities legally search your vehicle?

A few weeks ago, we discussed the case of a Kansas defendant whose vehicle was searched by police officers. That person was tied to a marijuana ring that was operating in the area. Could that defendant have avoided the criminal allegations if he refused a vehicle search? Legal experts say it is important to know your rights when your vehicle is being searched in connection with drug possession or drug trafficking allegations.

Kansas drivers should expect less privacy and fewer rights in their vehicles than they do in their home. This is an established legal precedent. As a result, police officers are allowed to search vehicles without warrants for a variety of reasons. First, the officer is permitted to search your car if probable cause exists to indicate that criminal evidence may be present in your vehicle. This evidence can include visible illegal substances in your vehicle, which may lead to drug possession charges. Officers can also perform searches if they are concerned for their own safety -- that is, to determine whether a firearm is in the vehicle. Finally, if you are arrested, your vehicle may also be searched in connection with that arrest.

Perhaps the most important reason that an officer would search your vehicle: You give consent. Remember that you are not required by law to consent to a search of your car. This is particularly true for those people who are simply stopped for a traffic violation -- the officer is not allowed to search your car without additional justification.

Authorities are also permitted to search your vehicle if it has been impounded or towed. However, they are not allowed to seize your vehicle for the express purpose of searching it. Keep in mind that even a simple parking violation could lead to a thorough vehicle search, however. Drivers on Kansas roads still have rights when it comes to warrantless vehicle searches, and they should be protected from unfair search and seizure.

Source: FindLaw, "Can the Police Legitimately Search My Vehicle Without a Warrant?" Aug. 12, 2014

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